Burundi’s government says it would attend regional talks this weekend aimed at ending a year-long cycle of violence that has claimed about 450 lives and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.
Mediated by the East African Community (EAC), a regional body of which Burundi is a member, the talks have been repeatedly postponed since a first meeting in December, with the government refusing to share a table with what it considers insurgent groups.
Spokesman Willy Nyamitwe said that restriction still applied, but added: “We have received an invitation and we will go.”
Burundi’s political crisis broke out in April 2015 when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term, a move opponents said violated the constitution.
After putting down an attempted coup in May led by generals opposed to his continued rule, he was re-elected in July, supported by a favorable court ruling.
Violence has steadily escalated since, with tit-for-tat killings between Nkurunziza’s security forces and rebels who took up arms against his government.
The next phase of talks is due to take place on Saturday in Arusha in neighboring Tanzania, under the mediation of that country’s former president Benjamin Mkapa.
One opposition party, the CNDD, said it would attend, while others had yet to confirm their presence. The government recognizes the CNDD as a legitimate interlocutor.
Burundian police estimate more than 450 people have been killed since the unrest began while about a quarter of million have fled to neighboring states.
At least three anti-Nkurunziza armed rebel groups have emerged and the government has accused neighboring Rwanda of backing some of them. Rwanda denies the accusations.
The bloodshed in Burundi has stoked fears the crisis could destabilize a region still reeling from the Rwandan genocide in 1994 in which an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in about 100 days.